Frequent traveller: Road to nowhereBack to Forum
Anonymous24 Nov 2010
In which our correspondent’s South American odyssey takes him all the way to Heathrow and back…
Another weekend, another flight. It’s Saturday afternoon as I wave goodbye to the wife and kids. The destination this week is a new one for me – Buenos Aires. Even at this stage of my travelling career I enjoy visiting new places, but this one posed a problem – no direct flights.
I am not a fan of connections at the best of times so my only real choice was British Airways via Sao Paolo. In these troubled economic times, I was looking at a bill of £5,500 in business or nearly £3,000 in premium economy. Finding these prices somewhat eye-watering for a 36-hour trip, I explored the alternatives. Frankfurt, Munich, Madrid, Paris, the US – all were at least as expensive.
Then I found LAN Airlines. At just over £2,000 for a business ticket, the only disadvantage was a slightly longer journey via Madrid and Santiago, using a mixture of BA, Iberia and LAN with the final short-haul sector in economy – a small sacrifice for a reasonable saving in the corporate wallet. I also had to stuff my belongings into hand baggage, as I did not want my clothes chasing me around the world for the next few weeks when my bag missed a connection.
I first suspected the journey may not be plain sailing when my wife phoned within ten minutes of my leaving to say a South American woman who could hardly speak English had called for me but neglected to leave a message. Only slightly perturbed, I continued on to Heathrow.
I had already checked in for the first flight using BA’s nifty iPhone app, congratulating myself, as I did so, on being so technologically savvy (although I did find myself checking a couple of times that the boarding pass was still on the phone). At T3, I asked the BA staff to issue my passes for the connections. The nice man at the First counter (I have a gold card) tried and tried, phoned for help and then realised I had been taken off the flights as the one from London was running two hours late. The penny dropped as to the reason for the mysterious phone call.
Hovering at the unmanned business class ticket desk, I looked forlornly at the other staff in the hope they would beckon me to the front of the snaking economy line. They didn’t bite – I must work on my puppy-dog eyes. After about 15 minutes, a shift change magicked a member of staff in front of me, who got me a new boarding pass and wait-listed me for the full BA flight to Buenos Aires. Off I trotted to T5.
At security, the boarding pass failed so I traipsed to the BA desk. A few button pushes later, I doubled back and joined the fast-track queue, which turned into the same queue as everyone else, full of sneezing flu victims and squawking hen party members.
Through in one piece, I headed for the lounge and made myself known at customer services. The woman behind the desk looked at her screen, grunted a couple of times and said I should be fine. When the flight’s closing time was approaching I returned and, thankfully, the grunter had been replaced by a friendlier face, who nonetheless warned me that it was exceptionally busy and I would have to come back in ten minutes.
Fearing the worst, I did something I never do before a flight – drink. Sinking two glasses of Albarino, I was ready for the bad news. Yes – first class was full, business was oversold and people were being downgraded, so premium economy was packed too. But there might be a chance of the last ticket in economy! Forgive me if I didn’t turn cartwheels.
I asked her to check other options and she tapped away with superb efficiency, eventually finding me a space on Lufthansa via Frankfurt. The only downside was that the flight was the next morning and I would have to be up at 4am. I called the cab firm and then my wife.
Back yet again to the BA desk to be taken landside, and after ten minutes my escort appeared and deposited me at the UK border! Thank god for IRIS otherwise I might still have been there at 4am, such were the queues.
In the back of the cab, I thought of the past six hours – £70 in cab fares and only sore legs and two glasses of wine to show for it. At least my wife would be pleased to see me. Well she would have, had I not woken her up and pronounced I would be getting up again a few hours later – or at least I would have, had I not set the alarm for 4pm by mistake. Not so tech-savvy now, am I?
Luckily, the taxi driver ignored my instructions not to ring the front doorbell when I didn’t answer my mobile. And at least I got the chance to say goodbye to the kids again – though, funnily enough, they didn’t much appreciate being woken from their slumber either. From now on – direct flights only.
Our Frequent Traveller might be relieved to hear BA is starting direct flights to Buenos Aires in March… See Route of the Month in the forthcoming December / January issue of Business Traveller.24 Nov 2010
And BA direct flights will help how? Unmanned business class desks; no priority service for premium passengers; non-existent fastrack lanes and; grunting staff are all USPs of BA’s service at Heathrow (as you found out). The crews may be nice (on a good day) but getting to them requires surviving the T5 Gulag (or, worse, T3). Assuming you arrive, your luggage is unlikely to arrive with you (as you note) and, the friendly BA staff, certainly wouldn’t dream of telling you it was lost until you’ve spent 90 minutes at the carousel and a long time in the queue for arrivals services (where, guess what, the premium desk is unattended). Because it’s BA, you can only take one full-size cabin bag (much less of a squash on LH, AF or KL or pretty much any European full-service airline, where you can take two as a business class passenger). Isn’t a BA Gold Card a bit like a membership card for the masochists’ club?
If you want to connect in Sao Paulo, I’d try TAM if I were you.25 Nov 2010
MarkCymru….I simply do not recognise any aspect of your critic of BA or T5.
The issues with security are a matter for the airport authority, though my experience has generally been positive. BA don’t control this element of the process, they only pay for it, as do the passengers.
Baggage can be mishandled at any transit point and as the original post stated, the concern was that it would miss in Madrid or Santiago IE mishandled by Iberia or LAN. Very few direct check-in bags are short shipped anywhere let alone by BA in T5.
You also failed to recognise or comment on the positive actions taken by BA to recover the situation by offering to waitlist on a direct flight and then rebooking on LH without regard for loss of revenue or the additional costs this may have incurred. Many airlines would have simply refused and moved you to the next day.
Legitimate criticism of BA is one thing. An ill informed diatribe is quite another.25 Nov 2010
Sadly, I have experienced all in the past 9 months – all when travelling business class.
BAA allowing eco pax into the fast track, to shorten the eco queues – BAA is BA’s contractor, up to them to ensure service delivery in line with the specification.
After a cancelled flight, had to queue in the economy line, as no business class counters manned.
Whilst not all ground staff ‘grunt’, a significant proporton of the ‘lounge dragons’ are incredibly curt, verging on rude – see another thread for a posters experience of pure rude unhelpfulness when he tried to use the arrivals lounge, following a Finnnair segment.
BA have just paid me a substantial amount of money for emergency clothes etc due to their failure to deliver my bag after a 2.5 hour connection through LHR and a single BA flight onwards.
No one informed me my bag did not make the flight, I waited for 45 minutes, unitl the carousel stopped and then queued behind eco pax because there was no premium handling desk
And the hand luggage allowance is a matter of fact.
The only comment I can partly disagree with is about the cabin crew, partially because I have seen some miseries in Club Europe, but not in Club World.
I’m pleased that you have mainly had good service – given that each of our personal experiences form a small part of the many millions of people using BA, there is bound to be some variation.
However, there seem to be enough people having bad experiences to suggest that the airline is not providing a consistenly good service.25 Nov 2010
Well, my dear frequent travellers, we all know that things can turn bad on any airline at any airport. What counts then is how the airline will solve the situation. The case narrated above is not that unusual. And BA solved it very well I think, allowing the passenger to fly on LH, a direct competitor. And LAN, another Oneworld good airline, was proactive by calling him as soon they were aware of the problem.
Now, yes BAA “services” can be very poor. Yes, BA has no other choice than using them. Yes, we all suffer from the sometime dreadful security lines. And yes, the now too often unmanned business counter situation must corrected asap by BA.
But, this story would have been probably much worse at CDG or FRA…27 Nov 2010
Agree with the other poster, LAN and BA spolve the case very-well (LAN calling before anoynamous goes to airport and BA allowing to lose their rev’s by booking him on Lufty) If it was other airlines, it could’ve been worse. United and IAD did it to me once. Came direct from Tokyo, wait in line for 2 hour to get through immigration and security check (you should’ve let the people who might miss thier connection cut you if your destination is Viginia, Maryland or DC!). The computer system said that the flight already leave at 6:15 PM, and kicked me to the next flight at 10-ish. The truth is the metal that is operating that flight arrived at 6:40 and depart @ 7-ish, the system just wouldn’t let me get in! After I wait in line for the customer service, with no special Premier desk like how they have special chek-in counters! The staff there, a rookie, could have book me on to Continental, US, Delta, and Americans Airlines to BDL. But he doesn’t. You are luckier that BA helped you. Not how UA ditch thier Mileage plus flier!29 Nov 2010